FutureEverything 2015 volunteer Vic Cooper on Haunted Machines at the FutureEverything Conference:
Many years ago, I made a friend on Myspace. We liked the same bands and played the same instruments. He went to so many gigs, I asked him how he could afford it. He told me it was because of a gift scheme, he had terminal cancer. He died a few months later when he was 17. Though his Myspace page stayed there, intact and unchanged. This was before people generally thought of giving passwords to others as a backup, so no one else touched his page. His identity was immortalised, frozen in the moment of his last post in 2006.
On the day of these talks, Leonard Nimoy knowingly shared his last tweet with the world.
This was all playing in my mind as I approached Haunted Machines. I half-expected horror stories of technology warped against us, and an existential conversation of our “being” online, transcending mortality and death. Though that wasn’t too far from the conversation, it became far more eclectic, spanning religion, history, demons, race, politics and gender. All this came together to cast a dynamic and living vision of a future where magic is an active part, for better or for worse, not just some archaic practice left to rot in obscure texts.
Magic is the channelling of power and can be used both as a tool for good or for fear and control. There is a narrative of fear of technology in western culture, or more specifically, what people do with it. Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror paints a particularly bleak picture of people’s tendency to warp advanced technology into a disturbing landscape. The concept of the episode “Be Right Back” has now actually become a possible reality, with the website Eterni.me which preserves your online “personality” after your death. It allows you to speak from beyond the grave via an amalgamation of your online activity, using data as a spiritual vessel for existence. It bears the tagline “Simply become immortal.”
This spiritual enchantment of innovation incites an anxiety and fear of the future, but technology, like magic, is a neutral vessel. Once a spell is cast the result is only a consequence of its influences. Limiting those influences can only result in exclusion. For example Apple’s recent health app completely disregarded menstruation as a common health factor. This oversight spoke of a lack of input from people who menstruate; they were not given the power to cast their own vision. The spell is a result of the identity of those who cast it. To limit exclusivity, the circle needs to stretch wider and open more facets to channel the power.
Artists like Sun Ra and Parliament Funkadelic used shamanism and African religious imagery to break through western, Christian constructions of the future. Supplementing a Christian God for African ones gave the movement open licence to play with future narratives, whilst not abandoning their own history and culture. We so often set technology and religion at odds with each other, pitting tradition and progression as competitors, but Afrofuturist artists acknowledged and embraced their magical history. From drum circles to trance music, religion and magic were appreciated and allowed to be relevant to any conceivable future.
Exclusivity inhibits this potential for expression and creation, be that in politics, art, race or gender.
Technology and magic, science and fate, scryers and weather forecasts, all have a common desire to perceive and shape the future. Paying penance to normativity will not result in cosmic balance. To determine the unknown and build a future to look forward to we need to be able to imagine something outside of just our own experience, the circle must be inclusive.